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Report: Religious Freedom Under Attack: The Rise of Anti-Mosque Activities in New York State (2011)


In the summer of 2010, national media attention turned to a plan to build a Muslim community center, to be called “Park51,” a few blocks away from ground zero. Although the plan was first reported in late 2009, with a quote from the project’s religious leader at the time stating that its goal was to “push back against the extremists,” the proposal did not receive much media attention until May 2010. Following a New York Community Board 1 resolution supporting the project, blogger Pamela Geller wrote a post suggesting that building a mosque near ground zero (the site of an “Islamic attack”) was “insulting and humiliating.” Despite the intense national media attention focused on Park51 in the past year, the anti-mosque and anti-Muslim sentiment being expressed in opposition to the project is not an isolated event. And unlike in New York City, where the government was outspoken in support of religious liberty, Muslim congregations around New York State are being targeted by their local governments in numerous jurisdictions as well as their communities for their religious beliefs and practices. This report discusses the legal and cultural background against which these controversies are playing out, and details some of the recent attacks on Muslim communities in New York. It also offers recommendations for how our government and our communities can work to increase intercultural understanding of Muslim New Yorkers and reduce anti-Muslim sentiment in New York State. The NYCLU presents this analysis and recommendations with the recognition that all New Yorkers have First Amendment rights to exercise their religion and to express their opinions regarding the building of mosques. Intercultural understanding will not be achieved by suppressing the First Amendment rights of those who practice Islam or those who criticize the building of mosques. Rather, our recommendations focus on responding to the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment by educating our fellow New Yorkers about the importance of religious diversity and by calling on elected officials to ensure that New York State remains a welcoming place for all people who want to live, and worship, here.

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